The Best Cheap Phone Plans for 2021

There are a lot of options beyond the big three phone carriers in the US. If you're looking to save money, these lesser-known low-cost cell phone plans might be the ticket.

Updated August 2, 2021

Plans That Pay

Most Americans are signed up with one of the major carrier brands—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless—or runner-up US Cellular, but there are many more choices available to US cell phone customers looking for a bargain. Dozens of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) and prepaid carriers offer big discounts by piggybacking on the major networks to deliver lower prices.

All the major carriers have low-cost brands, and their deals are worth checking first. AT&T runs Cricket Wireless. T-Mobile currently owns Metro. Verizon owns Visible. If you're looking for a wide range of stores and solid customer service, these brands have excellent prices and should be your first shopping stops. We'll mention them below when appropriate.

For the other brands, which typically don't have stores, pay attention to their reputation for customer service and to their enabling networks. Some MVNOs give you an option to choose between different enabling networks, and some are tied to only one. One company, Google's Project Fi, uses T-Mobile and US Cellular's networks interchangeably on some phones, but for the rest, you have to choose which network you want when you buy your SIM card.

Boost Mobile is a major MVNO player with competitive pricing, but you'll want to think twice before switching to it. When the company was purchased by Dish in 2020, it originally planned to use T-Mobile's network for the foreseeable future. Dish now claims T-Mobile is uncompetitive and has signed a contract to lease service from AT&T for the next decade. This is likely to spell big trouble for current Boost customers who still use T-Mobile's CDMA network or bought carrier-locked devices. 

We're ordering our picks by how much you want to spend per month, to give you the best value at every price level. Depending on your needs, even one of the big three networks could have a plan that works for you. For the best carrier service where you live, check out our results for the Fastest Mobile Networks in the US and Canada.

Which Phones Work With These Networks?

Some of the smaller carriers do not sell their own phones or limit their selection to low-end phones that may be locked to their network. We recommend purchasing a cheap phone that is compatible with multiple carriers. If you're on a fixed income, something on our list of the best phones for seniors might be a good fit. You can also check with the carrier to see if your current phone works on its network if you're looking to save a little money.

Most unlocked phones are compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile, and with any carrier that uses their networks. If you're looking for an unlocked phone that works on all three major US systems, consider any factory-unlocked iPhone that's of the XR or later varieties, the Samsung Galaxy S9 or higher, the Google Pixel line, or the Moto G series. Or take a look at our list of the best unlocked phones.

What About Customer Service?

In general, when you turn to these less-prominent carriers, you're not going to get the sort of customer service you get from the major networks. The issues we hear about most involve new service activations and billing. Since there are no retail stores for the smaller carriers, any problems you encounter have to be handled by call centers or online help desks, often staffed by outsourced agents who don't have the knowledge or resources to correct many issues. A quick search on Reddit provides plenty of cautionary tales about small MVNOs. We've done our best to research all of our recommendations closely, but it would be wise to do some searching on your own before you pull the trigger.

If good customer service is a concern, you'll want to check out Consumer Cellular. For nine years running, our readers have chosen Consumer Cellular as their favorite carrier. You can also turn to the wholly owned brands of the big carriers, which have their own store networks: AT&T's Cricket and T-Mobile's Metro. Verizon's Visible doesn't have any stores, but it has Verizon behind it.

Image of $10 bill next to SIM card

Cell Phone Plans for $10 or Less Per Month

While it's possible to get mobile service at $10 a month or less, the number of carriers offering such deals are in steep decline. Even when plans come in at the $10 mark, most do not include taxes and services that can nearly double the price, depending on where you live.

Right now, there are three carriers we recommend that offer solid service at a rock-bottom price. Tello, which piggybacks off T-Mobile's network, offers the most bang for your buck. On its website you can create a custom plan with unlimited calls, texts, and 1GB of data for $10. It's a solid deal if you have an old phone or are looking to buy an unlocked phone that works on multiple carriers.

RedPocket's basic plan comes in at $10 and gives you 500 minutes of talk time, 500 text messages, and 500MB of data. It's also the only MVNO in this price range that has relationships with all the major carriers, so you can select the option with the best service in your area.

If you use a feature phone or need very little LTE data, US Mobile is a good choice. The carrier has a custom plan for $10 a month that includes 500 minutes of talk, 300 text messages, and 100MB of data. And while US Mobile doesn't sell phones directly, you can choose a SIM that works with Verizon or T-Mobile phones, so there's a good chance your current phone, or one you've had your eye on, will work on its network.

Although Tracfone has many fans, its plans are still on the pricey side. We have a feeling things may become more competitive when the Verizon acquisition is completed, and we'll update when appropriate.

Image of a ten and one dollar bill with two SIM cards

Cell Phone Plans for $11–$20 Per Month

Though it may be a little more expensive than other small carriers, Consumer Cellular's simple, senior-focused plan comes with excellent customer service. With AT&T and T-Mobile as its backbone, you can expect solid coverage around the country. Its lowest-cost, sweet-spot plan has 250 minutes, unlimited texts, and 50MB of data for $20 per month. If you're looking to drop your landline altogether, you may want to shell out an extra five bucks and get the plan with unlimited calls and texts with 500MB of data.

US Mobile is, by far, your best choice in this price range. The carrier offers unlimited talk and text along with 12GB of data for just $20 a month. 5G and international roaming is included at no extra charge.

Looking for a basic plan with solid LTE coverage and discounts for automatic payments? H2O Wireless is a great option. The carrier's least expensive plan provides unlimited calls and texts and 2GB of data on AT&T's network for just $20 a month. Set up autopay, and you'll save an extra $2 a month.

Republic Wireless plans have become much more competitive since it was acquired by Dish. Its best deal is its $20 plan, which has unlimited talk and text and 1GB of data on the T-Mobile network. If you're not afraid of commitment, Republic Wireless will give you a hefty discount for annual payments.

Although Mint Mobile offers an introductory plan with unlimited calls, text, and 4GB of data for $15 month, it requires a three-month commitment. If you want to keep the rate once the introductory period is over, you'll need to pay for a year of service. It's a good deal in theory, but we don't recommend it, as we think Mint has poor customer service and slow data speeds compared with the competition.

Image of a twenty one dollars surrounded by SIM cards

Cell Phone Plans for $21–$30 Per Month

Over the past few years, plans that were in this category have started to creep up past the $30 mark, so there are fewer options. That said, the plans remaining in this bracket are more impressive than ever.

Ultra Mobile is a solid option here, with good plans and inexpensive add-ons for customers who frequently make international calls. For $29 per month, Ultra Mobile provides 6GB of 5G or LTE data on the T-Mobile network. If you're willing to pay for 3, 6, or 12 months of service in advance, you can save even more on Ultra's multi-month plan, which has unlimited calls, unlimited texts, 6GB of 5G or LTE data, and unlimited international calling for just $25 a month.

Tello offers unlimited calls and texts with 6GB of data on T-Mobile's network for $24. If you need a little more data, there's also a plan with 8GB of data for $29.

Red Pocket Mobile's $30 plan is another winner in this category. The plan features unlimited talk, unlimited texting, and 10GB of high speed data; if you choose AT&T or Verizon, you'll get LTE speeds, T-Mobile plans come with 5G connectivity. International calling to over 80 countries is also included.

The best deal on AT&T's network in this price bracket comes courtesy of Allvoi. For $28 a month you can enjoy unlimited calls and texts along with 10GB of data. 300 minutes of international calling to more than 20 countries is included free of charge.

Image of thirty one dollars next to a SIM card

Cell Phone Plans for $31–$40 Per Month

There are a couple of plans we recommend in this price range, but it's an awkward spot. Slightly less-expensive plans offer comparable services and, if you're willing to pay a few dollars more, you can get unlimited service. Nevertheless, there are two plans worth mentioning.

Frequent international callers who use a moderate amount of data should check out Lyca Mobile's $39, 15GB plan that offers unlimited calls and texts to over 75 different countries.

Ultra Mobile is another solid option in this price range. For $39, you get unlimited talk and text, along with 15GB of 5G or LTE coverage. If you’re willing to pay in advance, you can save up to $9 a month with the carrier’s multi-month plan. 

Cheap Phone Plans With Unlimited Data

Image of SIM card sitting on top of forty one dollars

If you're looking for a truly unlimited plan, Visible is your best bet. At $40, it's our favorite option with unlimited talk, text, and 5G data speeds at up to 200Mbps on Verizon's network. If you own an iPhone with an eSIM, you can activate service simply by downloading the Visible app. The botique carrier also wins for incredible customer service through its app, phone, text, and web.

Some cable companies offer unlimited plans that are only slightly more expensive than Visible's. If you're a Comcast Cable subscriber, Xfinity Mobile gives you unlimited data for $45 per month on Verizon's network, with speeds reduced after 20GB. Spectrum Mobile offers the same. It's worth keeping in mind that you'll be dealing with a cable company when there are technical or billing issues, which may top the mobile industry when it comes to frustrating customer service.

Metro by T-Mobile also offers an unlimited plan with 5G connectivity though it's even more expensive at $50 a month. For the extra money, however, you do get 5GB of hotspot data and 100GB of Google One storage as well as access to its network of retail stores around the country should you encounter any problems.

If you're an AT&T fan, Cricket has an unlimited plan for $55 a month. With a price tag that's over 25% more than the least expensive plan on this list and a 8Mbps speed cap, it's a hard plan to love, but your best bet on AT&T's network.

Our Favorite 5G Plans

5G SIM in smartphone SIM slot

Ready for the next generation of mobile connectivity? Before you jump head-first into the 5G pool, you’ll want to read our in-depth primer on the next generation of cellular technology. 5G is a very different beast than previous connectivity standards and, in the US especially, most 5G smartphones are optimized for specific carriers. That means if you decide to switch carriers, there’s a chance your phone will offer limited or no 5G access at all. Check out our list of the best 5G phones for the top devices we recommend right now, but make sure to check out the 5G connectivity standards for each carrier before you pull the trigger.  

Most small carriers offer some sort of 5G plan, but it's important to pay attention to the fine print. It's common for carriers to restrict 5G plans to sub-6GHz, cap speeds, or even limit the amount of data included in "unlimited" plans. For this reason, we think Visible and Metro by T-Mobile are your best bets.

Visible offers the best 5G plan on Verizon's network. For $40 a month, you get unlimited calls, text, and 5G data capped at 200Mbps. If you're looking to save even more savings, Visible's Party Pay is an excellent option. You can add up to three additional family members, friends, or roommates and knock $5 off your bill for each addition. The savings is offered to all lines, so a Party Plan with four lines would cost just $25 per month. Also, you don't have to worry about collecting Venmo payments for everyone's portion of the bill, Visible bills each member separately.

Metro by T-Mobile is slightly more expensive. Unlimited plans with 5G access come in at $50 a month. It’s an excellent deal If you’re in an area with solid 5G coverage, as the price includes 5GB of hotspot data, 100GB of Google One storage, and an unlimited streaming music feature that works with more than 40 different services. While T-Mobile customers are prioritized over Metro subscribers when the network is congested, it’s unlikely to have a significant effect on network speeds if you have a good 5G connection.

SIM card with American flag logo

Phone Plans That Align With Your Beliefs

Are you passionate about your political or social beliefs? Want to put your money behind causes you believe in? There are a handful of wireless carriers that let you do just that, and will charge you a hefty penalty for the luxury.

Credo Mobile donates a small percentage of your bill to progressive charities. The carrier runs on Verizon's network and charges a whopping $50 for a 3GB plan.

Patriot Mobile bills itself as “America’s only Christian conservative wireless provider,” is similarly expensive, and donates a percentage of your payment to a variety of right-wing causes. It offers a plan with unlimited talk, text, and 22GB LTE data for $55 a month plus tax.

Looking for a socially conscious carrier that doesn’t have a political agenda? Reach Mobile is a good option. A relative newcomer to the MVNO crowd, Reach is a socially conscious carrier that donates 10 percent of your monthly bill to nonprofits in Africa, India, and the US that provide free mobile phone service to women in need and support digital literacy and skills training. The carrier's All-In plan comes with unlimited calls and texts and 20GB of LTE data (on Verizon’s network) for $65 plus tax. Reach's Best Fit service is an added perk that automatically swaps out your current plan with a more affordable option should you use less data than anticipated. It's worth mention that Reach doesn't support domestic roaming, so you’ll want to make sure you’re in an area with solid Verizon coverage before signing up.

Until recently, most of the carriers in this section listed how much they donated from your bill to justify their pricey plans. Credo Mobile donated 1% and Patriot Mobile would pony up 5%. We recommended going with a less-expensive carrier on this list and set aside the savings to donate to the charity of your choice, since your donation would go much further. Credo and Patriot have now removed details of the exact amount they donate to charity, instead opting to show a cumulative total. Since neither carrier is being up front about how much of your money it chooses to donate, it's even harder to recommend them now. 

If your mission is to boycott carriers that support political or social causes you're against, you're out of luck. All of these MVNOs lease from one of the major carriers, so your money indirectly supports their lobbying and community involvement efforts. Using a low-cost plan and donating directly to your favorite charities continues to be our recommended way to go.

For more on how to get a good deal, check out our 9 tips to get the best price on a cell phone.

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Sascha Segan's lead mobile analyst, Sascha Segan, has reviewed more than 1,100 smartphones, tablets and other gadgets in more than 15 years with PhonespySoftware24. He's the head of our Fastest Mobile Networks projects in the US and Canada, runs our Race to 5G tracker, and writes opinions on tech and society. Segan is also a multiple award-winning travel writer. Other than his home town of New York, his favorite cities are Barcelona and Hong Kong. While he's a fourth-generation Manhattanite, he now lives in Queens with his wife and daughter.

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